Whirled in a stall spin?

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The Tulsa World announced today that it has laid off 28 employees, 26 of them members of the news staff. Two of the three members of the paper's State Capitol bureau were let go.

This is the second major cutback in a year. The paper closed its Community World bureaus last March, moving some jobs downtown.

The carnage included a designer for the paper who has a blog about newspaper design called Heady Goes Herey:

I was only there for four months, so I don't have the exact tally of what positions were all eliminated and I'm not sure if or how many were laid off from other parts of the company. I do know that the graphics department has been eliminated, I was the only designer, there were two photographers (one of whom was the main videographer), the advisor of the high school section, at least two copy editors, a sports designer/editor, administrative assistants were eliminated and several reporters.

In a thread at TulsaNow's public forum, member sgrizzle reports an intriguing rumor:

I heard that the Lortons were heavily invested into buying another newspaper earlier this year (likely why they cut back in March) and were close to completing the sale when the economy tanked. Now they can't secure the financing and can't complete the sale which hurt them.

Also, they had upped the individual paper cost and upped the pay to their box route carriers (retail stores and vending machines) in response to gas prices, then gas prices subsided. That had to also hurt.

New York magazine's blog had this to say:

The Times is resorting to desperate measures, but the Atlantic thinks that, like, might not make a difference. Forbes is laying off more staffers, and that dream you had of escaping it all and running away to a little publication in Tulsa? Forget it, bud....

Tulsa World, a family-owned newspaper, has laid off 28 staffers. In case you were wondering if there were still jobs in Tulsa.

The same item offers a link to this helpful list of things a reporter should do long before the security guard comes to escort him to the exit -- e.g., e-mailing all your contacts to a personal e-mail account, weeding through personal belongings, and saving your best work to a flash drive.

Another commenter at TulsaNow's public forum, cannonfodder, writes:

Anytime a paper cuts back it cuts back on its content. Which cuts back on its readership. Which cuts back on its ad revenue. A horrible spiral.

What the World needs now is to break out of the stall spin. If they want to regain readership, the World's owners and senior management need to confess and repent. They need to acknowledge that their one-sided editorial section and the bias they've encouraged on the news pages have driven away readers. And then they need to balance the paper -- add opposing views to the editorial board, hire an ombudsman to take a critical look at the paper's news coverage, convene focus groups of the paper's harshest critics. The paper's ownership and senior management need to acknowledge that they have a blind spot and then act to correct it.

It was only four years ago that Ken Neal, then editorial page editor, boasted of the lack of dissent and diversity on the editorial board. That lack of diversity is killing the paper's credibility and its readership. Perhaps the present crisis will inspire some overdue humility and soul-searching.

MORE: The AP story adds some details:

Managing Editor Susan Ellerbach said that overall, the cuts represented about 5 percent of World Publishing Company's work force.

Those laid off were informed at a meeting Tuesday morning. Cuts in the newsroom included two Capitol bureau reporters, a police reporter, photographers and employees in the graphics department, among others.

Newspaper Death Watch mentions the World in its "Layoff Log" and also links to this Editor and Publisher column by Steve Outing with 12 online money-making tips for newspapers. The World seems to be pursuing many of these avenues already. Much of the advice has to do with pursuing niche online content and selling targeted ads for those niches. As for the print edition, Outing advises: "Don't bother chasing young people... Focus on the core demographic... Guide older print loyalists to a life online... Reduce the number of print editions."

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Add to Michael Bates’ detailing of the financial woes of the Tulsa newspaper this tidbit from Frosty Troy’s Oklahoma Observer: The Tulsa World owners have declined to meet their current $100,000 pledge on the Capitol dome. (They may also ... Read More

10 Comments

Shadow6 said:

I wonder, based on this quote from the paper, how much the web site brings in:

"We have worked diligently for several years to shape the Tulsa World and tulsaworld.com as the best and most authoritative, trusted news outlet in Tulsa"

I refuse to buy our local rumor rag. I have their ads blocked to deny them revenue. Meeciteewurkr had an article that was useful on doing this, but his blog went belly up again recently.

When I need a newspaper, I buy the Oklahoman.

Bob said:

Michael: Those corrective measures that you list:

--The World's owners and senior management need to confess and repent.

--They need to acknowledge that their one-sided editorial section and the bias they've encouraged on the news pages have driven away readers.

--And then they need to balance the paper -- add opposing views to the editorial board, hire an ombudsman to take a critical look at the paper's news coverage, convene focus groups of the paper's harshest critics.

--The paper's ownership and senior management need to acknowledge that they have a blind spot and then act to correct it.

These measures are just NOT going to happen.

Why? The Lorton Family has been one of the local ruling Oligarch Families so long with now their third generation calling the shots, and having EVERYTHING their way, that I do NOT believe that they CAN change.

They are also fighting long term negative national trends: Falling readership in daily newspapers.

Brent Taylor Author Profile Page said:

One of your best Michael. The T-World has had its fall coming for a long time - at least since the Tribune went out of existence. Justice was a long time coming, but unfortunately the real perpetrators (the feckless editors and owner) of the demise still reside at the T-World.

When their sales department called me for the umpteenth time early last month offering the 1/2 price special, I simply told them no way. I will no longer support those who spit in my face, even if it is the only game in town.

I apologized for my tone to the marketing department because I have found the everyday workers at the T-World both pleasant and professional. The arrogant editors and owner would do well to take a lesson.

And I agree with both comments from above. Like Bernie Goldberg said, media liberals can no more change their politic and hatred of faith than a zebra can change it stripes. They live in a world of collusion and illusion, discounting anyone that dares think differently.

They will go down in flames before they will ever admit to it.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

Ever notice they won't print unsigned letters to the editor but they will print editorials w/o an author's name? hypocrites

William said:

Do the Lortons still own their yacht, which is one of the world's largest ? The sale of that thing could probably pay for the entire newsroom i'd guess.

It may be that Oklahoma isn't a big enough market to support more than one major paper. If that. Perhaps both the Oklahoman and the World will fold, leaving Dallas augmented by very focused, very local papers.

Book authors aren't doing well, either, partly as a result of the burgeoning used book market enabled by the Internet. Already companies have announced that they are purchasing no new manuscripts in 2009, and possibly beyond.

All print publishing developed a profit model that has long since been made redundant (much like their employees). As a content producer, I'm not sure where that leaves us. The only thing that comes to mind is a subscription model. Still, there are small press newspaper and book publishers wheeling along happily by exploiting the long tail. They tend to create time-sensitive information or analysis for a very small niche market.

But I personally don't know how to move to the new market. If it even exists. I don't think that copyleft and Google Ads are the solution. I think that we're just going to have to live with an increased cost of newspapers, and they're going to be entirely local -- not to your city but to your neighborhood, focusing on the schools and local little leagues, with a smattering of business press releases.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

If the logic is that the World is taintedand we are left with just neiborhood papers then who covers the Tulsa City government? We have all seen what Tulsa has become with the bought and paid for World facilitating the city's slide in to the pockets and whims of the rich and infamous.

All the demise of the World (speculated here) is give the same old suspects even more cover.

If anyone has the time, read "the powers that be" by david halberstam. Its either enyertaining or nauseating depending on your bank balance.

I never noticed until today, but in the Web section of the Whirled, many of their writers have blogs. They should add you. You'd bring substance back.

Brent Taylor Author Profile Page said:

By the way Michael. Earlier today, I meant to leave a thank you for helping "the ignorant" of city politic (like me) keep abreast of the current issues.

You do the entire city a much needed service. I'm sure you are not alone in that regard, but you are the one that I am familiar with - please pass my thanks to anyone that assists.

Thanks, Brent and Irritated, for the kind words.

The World has made some positive changes and smart moves in the last couple of years: Opening up their website, covering breaking news 24/7, adding blogs from their writers, adding video and photojournalism features, to name a few. (Of course, the Oklahoman had done this a few years earlier.) Some of those changes involved policy reversals.

I was surprised by yesterday's editorial supporting the City Council's due diligence on the hospital trust. A more typical editorial would have slammed the council for foot-dragging, and in fact the council just got slammed by the editorial board not long ago for wanting to be involved in developing the list of projects for the Obama spending spree. It may be a change of heart, or it may just be that the Lortons have some interests in the hospital situation that are at odds with Taylor's trust plan.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 6, 2009 11:11 PM.

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